Today, I began an entirely new sort of audio recording project, narrating course notes from a road race into what you might call a “virtual rally navigator” audio program.  To explain, imagine a traditional audio tour through the Louvre, but in a Lamborghini Diablo, at 110 MPH.  “Hairpin left at ‘La belle jardinière’ in 3, 2, 1….”  Buckle up, buttercup.

To share a family secret, Linda and I are avid motorsport fans.  Usually, we’re content to spectate, but there’s one competition we budget for each year – it’s the Silver State Classic Challenge, an open road race (ORR) that invites anyone to go “flat out on a public highway.”  If that doesn’t fluff your tutu, know that the event holds the Guinness World Record for ‘Fastest Speed on a Public Highway,’ at – are you ready? – 217 MPH.

In fifteen years, we’ve logged our share of podium finishes but the competition is getting tougher, thanks to a new generation of DIY navigation computers, built with Raspberry Pi mainboards and homespun code.  You can’t buy these in a store, so if you want this advantage, you’ll need plenty of time and some well-honed coding chops.

I’m shy on time, so I dreamed up a quick alternative.  Really, all a navigator or navigation computer does is advise the driver to “slow down,” “speed up,” and of course “watch out for dead cow.”  This requires a human being in a typical rally race, being that the information must be delivered according to pace or absolute position.  However, in the case of a time-speed-distance (TSD) or regularity rally – this includes open road races – time and speed are fixed, or at least highly predictable.  As such, an ORR navigator’s commands can be pre-recorded.  Got it?

To demonstrate, here’s how we’ve been doing it until now.  At 2:00, Linda goes to work, using her stopwatches and course notes to calculate our distance to each mile marker and to deliver a verbal countdown, so the monkey – that’s me – can push the button and get a banana.

 

 

So, that’s where this comes from.  It’s a fixed-speed audio tour, but without the distraction of any pretentious educational value.   No Winged Victory of Samothrace.  No deep inspection of Michelangelo’s Dying Slave.  And, just in case that’s not inartistic enough for ya, I pumped my narration through a vocoder, to strip any semblance of humanity from it.  Amurica.  Fuk, yeah!

Here’s what it sounds like at mile marker LN24:

 

 

Voila!  One virtual navigator on CD (or whatever).  It won’t alert you to undocumented road hazards, rescue you from a burning vehicle or, more commonly, recalculate your driving strategy when things go more than a few seconds wrong, but it’s another worthwhile tool to have in your Nomex® belt.

So, if it’s such a great idea, why hasn’t it been done before?  Historically, CD players, iPods, and even smartphones had unreliable timing.  I attempted the same exercise on a Samsung i330 in 2004 and promptly gave up.  The phone’s internal clock maintained accurate time but applications floundered, losing several seconds per hour.

Today, a smartphone is still unreliable (if only for the awkward touchscreen and UI lag), but a quality audio field recorder works nicely.  I loaded a 16-bit, 44.1 kHz version of my virtual navigator audio file into a Zoom H1 and saw no perceptible playback drift when compared to two Robic SC-505W stopwatches.  If there is any, it’s well below the threshold of human error, making it more than sufficient for this application.

Will it put us back on the podium after a three-year dry spell?  I’ll let you know in September.

Until then, if the Silver State Classic Challenge isn’t on your bucket list, it should be.  Give me a shout when you’re ready and I’ll hook you up.